Getting your entire family to adopt healthier eating habits can be a tough task, but it's not impossible. In general, your focus should be on introducing more high-quality and nutrient-rich foods into the family's diet, while leaving some room for the occasional treat every now and then. If you're not quite sure where to start, keep the following tips in mind to help make healthy eating a family affair.
1. Make family meal time a priority.
This is definitely easier said than done, especially when you factor in late work hours, homework or after-school activities, but try your best to schedule at least one meal a day where the whole family can eat together. This will help keep everyone on the same page nutritionally, and it can do wonders for improving family communication and connection as a whole. Keep in mind that this meal doesn't have to be dinner; it can be breakfast, or whatever works best for your family's schedule.
2. Encourage your kids to eat a "rainbow" of foods every day.
The most nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are typically the ones that have the most vibrant and appealing colors. The average fast food meal is full of "beige" foods (e.g., fried items, breads, etc.), and it's no surprise that they offer very little in the way of nutritional value. Teach your children the importance of eating a "rainbow" of foods every day, so that they'll become accustomed to eating more nutritionally balanced meals. Just be sure to let them know that Skittles and Lucky Charms are not the kind of "rainbow" you're talking about.
3. Teach your children that certain foods bring specific health benefits.
It's one thing to tell your kids that fruits and veggies are good for them, but it's another thing to explain why. Teaching your kids how certain foods carry specific health benefits will make a stronger connection between nutrition and health in their minds. For example, explain to them how carrots contain Vitamin A, which helps to keep their eyes healthy, or how nuts and fish contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which promote brain health (improving learning and concentration).
4. Explain that eating is for fueling your body, not for stuffing yourself.
It is important for kids to understand the real purpose for eating, which is to satisfy your hunger and fuel your body. If they see eating as a recreation, they'll be more likely to overeat. Reinforce the old adage that you don't live to eat, but rather you eat to live. This will help them view eating in its proper context, and prevent them from eating until they're completely stuffed or uncomfortable.
5. Go out for treats, but don't bring them in.
The "out of sight, out of mind" principle definitely applies to food choices, so if you don't keep a bunch of sweet treats around the house, more than likely your family won't crave them as much. There's nothing wrong with having a sweet treat every now and then, but instead of bringing it into your home, make it a rule that your family has to go out to get them. For example, instead of buying that half-gallon of ice cream (which could get eaten without much fanfare in a matter of days) from the supermarket and bringing it home, take your family out to an ice cream shop and make it a real treat to savor.
6. Get the whole family involved in grocery shopping.
This is a great way to introduce healthy foods into your family's diet. Allow your kids to choose a fruit or a vegetable that will be included in the next meal; you'll be surprised at how they'll warm up to the idea of trying something new when they realize that they have an investment in the final product.
7. Set the example.
Your kids are observing your behavior far more than you might think, and they will follow your lead, for good or for bad. The best thing you can do is present a balanced example of a healthy lifestyle, which means maintaining healthy nutrition standards overall while allowing some room for treats every now and then. If you set your standards too high, it will seem unattainable, but if you can show them that the majority of your eating habits promote good health, they will more than likely develop that same approach towards their eating habits.